Monthly Archives: March 2011

Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Herb Risotto

Risotto, to me, is an ultimate comfort food. It’s creamy, starchy, and warm – all attributes of comfort food in most people’s minds. And while this version is gluten and dairy-free, and relatively low in undesirables as far as healthfulness is concerned (it’s not comprised of processed foods and has a moderate amount of healthy fat), it’s still on the “special occasion” list for me, as it is a less-healthy grain than say, brown rice. That being said, this is deliciously indulgent without wrecking your waistline. And with the bright flavors of lemon and fresh herbs, it’s also a lovely dish for spring.

I originally found a lemon risotto over at What’s For Lunch Honey, and this recipe is based off of Meeta’s. Of course, I adjusted to my needs and what I had on hand, much to our delight as we sat down for dinner the other night. With a few seared scallops to top our risotto, suddenly, all was right with the world. We slowed to savor each bite – the scallops were so unbelievably sweet, which elevated the sunny notes in the risotto. It was a comfort dish for sure, but a lighter version – one that definitely welcomes spring.

Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Herb Risotto, inspired by What’s For Lunch, Honey

1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock

2 T olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped finely

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 carrots, diced

1 t fresh thyme leaves, minced

1 c Arborio rice

1/2 c light white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

2 lemons, zest and juice

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T chopped fresh parsley

1 T chopped fresh tarragon

1 lb sea scallops

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T olive oil

2 T hulled pumpkin seeds (optional)

In a medium saucepan, bring stock to a simmer. In a large skillet or low-sided saucepan, heat oil to medium heat and add onion, garlic, carrots, and thyme. Saute until vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. If vegetables start to color, lower heat – you want them soft, but not brown. Add rice and continue to saute for another minute or so, stirring, to make sure each kernel is coated with oil. Add wine and deglaze pan, stirring to ensure any bits are scraped up. Cook, continuing to stir, until wine is nearly evaporated. Add a ladle-full or two of the stoc into the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is nearly absorbed, and add another ladle. Continue with this process until the rice becomes plump and gives up a lot of starch, making the rice appear creamy. This should take about 20 minutes. Once your rice is nearing done, bite into a piece to check the doneness. In the center of the rice grain, there shouldn’t be more than a pinhead-sized white dot. This is al dente.

Meanwhile, while you are stirring your rice and it’s nearing done, pat the scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat another skillet to medium-high heat and add oil. Once hot, add scallops and allow to cook undisturbed for a minute, or until scallop releases easily from the skillet and has a golden brown crust. Turn over and sear the other side. Be careful not to overcook the scallops – you want them to be slightly firm and not mushy, but you definitely don’t want rubbery. This should only take a few minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Once your risotto is al dente, add lemon zest, juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add herbs and stir in. Serve immediately in low, shallow bowls, and top with a few scallops. Sprinkle a few pumpkin seeds over as garnish, if desired.

Serves 4.

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.

Simple Sauteed Swiss Chard

Many, many of the recipes on this blog aren’t simple. I know that. It might lead one to believe that I endlessly slave in the kitchen, making intricate things with lots of ingredients, every night of the week. Truth is, while I’d love to spend all day in the kitchen, reality (a.k.a. chores, errands, projects, a full-time job, step-kids, or otherwise life) gets in the way. (It’s just that when I do spend all day in the kitchen, and something comes out well, I want to share it with you!) So on those hectic days, when I’ve just stepped in the door after commuting for over an hour from the office, I rely on fresh ingredients, prepared as simply as possible, to provide us a nutritious meal (and keep my sanity in check). Many times, this means some sort of quick-cooking protein such as chicken, fish, or the occasional steak (or even leftover protein from the day before, if I’ve planned well), and a variety of vegetables, such as baked sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, a tossed salad, or sauteed greens, such as collards, kale, or swiss chard.

Swiss chard has to be one of my favorite greens. That’s saying a lot, since I love greens of just about every kind, and eat them nearly every day. To me, swiss chard is slightly sweet, and doesn’t need much adornment, particularly when it’s at the peak of freshness. This particular chard in the photo was as fresh as one can get – I picked it from my garden. I’d never planted chard before, so I was excited to watch it grow and flourish (I’m pretty much a novice gardener). There’s something about eating something you’ve grown yourself. It nearly always tastes better, simply because of its freshness. But there’s more to it than that. It’s as if it deserves much more respect, care, and love than any “other” vegetable. It’s almost like it’s your “baby”, if that makes sense. While I’m still learning a lot about how to grow vegetables, I love the experience, from preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to caring for them until it’s time to harvest and enjoy. It connects me to the Earth, to the seasons, to nature. I feel balanced and at peace.

But you came to read about swiss chard. So here you go. Like the title suggests, this is a simple, easy recipe, and I enjoy chard and other greens in much the same manner several times a week. A bit of onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper, and your greens are ready for your enjoyment as a delicious, simple side. Feel free to use other greens in this recipe as well – collards substitute well here.

Sauteed Swiss Chard

1 T olive oil

1/4 c chopped yellow onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large bunch of swiss chard, rinsed well and stems and leaves chopped

pinch crushed red pepper

2 T water

salt to taste

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 4-5 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Add swiss chard and crushed red pepper and saute for another minute. Add water and cover pan, and allow to “steam” for another 2-3 minutes, or until swiss chard is wilted and the leaves are bright green. Remove the lid and season to taste with salt.

Serves 3-4.

This post is linked to Friday Foodie Fix at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang.

Kids In The Kitchen: Cutting Down Cross-Contamination in a Shared Kitchen (and Molten Chocolate Lava Cake)

Yes, this is wheat flour on my blog...but let me explain...

This weekend, Brittany wanted to make molten chocolate lava cake. She’d had a version of it at a restaurant for her birthday, and wanted to recreate it at home. I researched and found several gluten-free recipes and was confident we could make a tasty version. But during this past week, she stated that she wanted to make it “with gluten”. I explained to her that it’s very likely it would taste just as good gluten-free, and that since I had zero molten chocolate lava cake experience, gluten-free or not, that gluten would not necessarily guarantee good results any more than gluten-free. But it was her decision. She insisted this was what she wanted to do. I agreed. (After all, the reason for the kids in the kitchen is to teach them cooking skills. Since they are not gluten or dairy-free, it is their decision whether they want to make their recipe gluten-free and dairy-free or not.) I started to make plans.

Some background: our kitchen is not 100% gluten-free. I know there are varying opinions on this out there in the gluten-free community. However, I do imagine that there are as many people out there with celiac disease that have to share kitchens with gluten-eaters as there are people with entirely gluten-free kitchens, maybe even more. Regardless, those of us with sensitivities to gluten must take steps to ensure they remain healthy if there is a decision to keep gluten-containing ingredients in the home.

For those new to a gluten-free diet, the idea of cross-contamination is often overwhelming at first. Cross-contamination is a term usually reserved for things like keeping raw meat separate from other foods and the like, not gluten. But even residual amounts of gluten can wreak havoc on the health of someone sensitive to it. So in an effort to remain healthy, steps must be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk of cross-contamination of gluten in food.

One solution is to make the kitchen entirely gluten-free. If there are gluten-eaters, they can get their gluten “fix” outside the home in restaurants and such. On one hand, this is a simple solution from a cross-contamination perspective. But many times, not everyone in the family agrees this is the most feasible.

We opt to keep some “gluten-y” foods around the home, mostly in the form of packaged bread, the occasional cracker, and beer. It’s all kept on one shelf in the pantry (with nothing underneath, in case somehow crumbs were to fall into other food). There are separate condiments in the fridge for gluten foods (such as mayonnaise, peanut butter, etc.) and the gluten-free versions are clearly marked on the lids. (Why have separate condiment jars? Well, if you’re like most people, when spreading something such as mayonnaise on a slice of bread, you will dip the knife in the mayo, spread it on the bread, and stick the knife back in the mayo again to repeat. Once that knife touched the bread, it’s VERY likely crumbs were clinging to it, and you then put crumbs into the mayonnaise jar. Crumbs = gluten = bad! Hence, the separate jars.) While I have heard that some people have opted to dedicate a counter space for the gluten foods to be prepared, our kitchen is too small for me to give up any space. Instead, the counters are thoroughly cleaned, and gluten-free items are never laid directly on the counter unless I have cleaned the counter immediately beforehand. If something with gluten needs to be cooked (occasionally, someone makes a grilled cheese sandwich or a frozen pizza in our home), there is a drawer below the oven that contains the “gluten-only” cooking utensils, such as a frying pan, spatula, pizza cutter, etc. There is a separate sponge used exclusively for cleaning the “gluten” dishes so no residual gluten is transferred from one plate to another. 99% of the time, this works for us. Other than my husband’s beer, gluten isn’t even consumed more than about once a week in our home, so while this sounds like a lot, it’s rather routine for us and not something we have to deal with every day.

But when Brittany brought up the molten chocolate lava cake, I knew this was time for that additional 1%. While I knew I needed to take extra steps to ensure that there wasn’t flour everywhere in my kitchen (Flour can stay airborne for many hours, and could settle on just about any surface. Not to mention, I didn’t want to breathe flour for any length of time.), I will admit, I was stressing a bit on how to best accomplish this. I needed to get a game plan together, because I didn’t want to be overly stressed during the time we were baking – this was about teaching Brittany to cook (and enjoying each other’s company!), not “freak out” time for yours truly. So I reached out to some of my best gluten-free friends, and they gave me a wonderful idea. So great, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

What was the idea?

Just take it outside.

Duh. It seemed so obvious. There wouldn’t be any flour in the air in the kitchen, no flour on the counters, no obsessive-compulsive cleaning (although I did do a top-to-bottom cleaning of the kitchen the following day, but that was just because it needed it!). Best of all, no worrying. I could be calm and relaxed and enjoy our time together.

And so we did. After dinner last night, we gathered all of our “gluten-only” cooking utensils (measuring cups, spoons, wooden spoon, whisk, etc) and began. We started in the kitchen, melting butter and chocolate in the bowl, and stirring in powdered sugar and eggs. When it came time for the flour, though, we headed outside.

whisking the last bit of flour into the batter

(Forgive the less-than-ideal photos – it was 8 PM when we were working on this treat last night!) Only once we had the flour fully incorporated into the batter did we come back inside, where Brittany immediately washed her hands well to get the flour off. The ramekins were set on a piece of foil inside the “gluten-only” baking sheet, so that in the chance there were drips of batter, the batter wouldn’t be all over on the counters or in the oven.

The dishes were all washed with the “gluten-only” sponge, and the table outside washed down and cleaned. And as for the molten chocolate lava cakes? They were enjoyed by the gluten-eaters in the home – they were described as tasting brownie-like on the edges, and while different than the ones at the restaurant, they were delicious.

forgot to take a shot of the molten lava inside, but trust me, it was there!

One day soon, I’ll attempt a gluten-free version. (I do have this part of me that wants to prove that a gluten-free, dairy-free, even refined sugar-free version can be just as delicious!) But until then, I’ll share that we used this recipe over at Tasty Kitchen. It’s a really easy recipe, so it was perfect for Brittany.

What about you? If you have someone with food intolerances/allergies, do you eliminate that item entirely from the home? If not, what do you do to ensure cross-contamination issues don’t occur?

Menudo Rojo

This is the kind of dish that evokes strong opinions, at least where I live. There are devoted lovers of menudo, and there are avid haters. (Obviously, I’m of the former group, or I wouldn’t be posting a recipe.) Rarely do I meet someone who is on the fence. When faced with a steaming, spicy, filling, healing stew (some say it’s a hangover cure), with a mountain of tortillas to enjoy alongside, why would anyone despise this dish? Most of the time, it has to do with tripe. Tripe is scary, gross, or otherwise unthinkable to some. It’s not a “normal” cut of meat in my part of the world, so it’s frowned upon and shunned in favor of the fancier cuts. My opinion? That we should cozy up to tripe – give tripe a chance!

What is tripe? Tripe is made from the first three chambers of an animal’s stomach (usually beef). The type most commonly found in Latin markets and most commonly used in menudo is honeycomb tripe, which comes from the third chamber. You will most likely find it already thoroughly cleaned, so it will look white, have a honeycomb texture, and should have very little odor to it, if any at all. (Sometimes you might find a grayish version – this type needs to be rinsed well and boiled for a while to remove any grittiness.) The advantages to tripe? If you’re into nose-to-tail eating, tripe will definitely need to be considered. (I’m in favor of sustainable eating. Shouldn’t be throwing away perfectly good parts just because they’re not steaks or roasts. Sometimes, the offal is the true delicacy.) It’s a good, inexpensive source of animal protein – it sells for a fraction of the price of other cuts of beef. Most of the time, all that cleaning is done for you at the butcher, so it is not extremely difficult to prepare. It also adds a lovely textural contrast to soups – simmered long enough, it becomes slightly chewy, but also giving and soft. It is not strongly flavored, and is more apt to take on the flavors added in a recipe than imparting its own. It is a key component in menudo, one of the more popular Mexican soups available.

Menudo is traditionally enjoyed for breakfast, often on New Years’ Day, but can be enjoyed on just about any weekend morning. Imagine a large bowl, filled with chili-spiced pork broth, bits of pork and tripe, hominy, laced with lime juice, and garnished with onion, cilantro, and fresh chiles. You pick up a fresh corn tortilla, roll it up, and dip a bit in the soup, and enjoy. Spoonful after spoonful opens your weary eyes with a spicy kick, and your whole body warms and is awakened. If you’re like me, that heat, complimented by the fresh lime and cilantro, is an addictive, delicious combination.  It’s an amazing thing when salty, fiery, meaty, and piquant flavors combine – it’s almost an explosion that knocks you back, but keeps you coming back for more. You might decide that this should become a regular meal in your rotation, especially in chilly months. (Of course, I could enjoy menudo any time of year!) For me, this is a comfort food – the warmth that the soup gives my body brings a sense of calm and happiness. Why that is, I’m not sure. I just know this is good stuff.

If you’ve been shy about tripe before, give it a try in menudo. Cut it into small, manageable bits, so that you can enjoy bite-sized morsels without feeling overwhelmed. You might find that you enjoy this new nose-to-tail eating thing, and feel better for it. Menudo will cure what ails you!

Menudo Rojo, adapted from Diana Kennedy’s The Art of Mexican Cooking

1 ½ lbs honeycomb tripe, rinsed well and cut into 1-inch squares

2 pigs feet (trotters), halved

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled

8 peppercorns

2 t kosher salt, or to taste

2 t Mexican oregano

4 quarts water

4 dried ancho chiles

3 dried guajillo chiles

1 large Hatch chile (or Anaheim or poblano), roasted, peeled, and chopped (can substitute canned green chiles)

1 15-oz can white hominy, drained

1 t ground cumin

To serve:

Dried oregano

Limes

Chopped onions

Chopped cilantro

Corn tortillas

Place the tripe, pigs feet, onion, garlic, peppercorns, salt, oregano, and water in a large stockpot or soup pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer uncovered for about 2 hours, or until the tripe and foot are tender but not too soft.

Meanwhile, remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and toast on a dry skillet for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Pour enough water to cover, and allow to simmer at a low heat, soaking the chiles.

Remove the pigs feet from the pot and set aside. When cool enough to touch, remove the fleshy parts and either tear into small pieces or chop, and return to pot. Add the hominy and Hatch chile to the pot.

Remove the soaking chiles from the water and place in a blender along with the cumin. Ladle about a cup of the simmering broth from the pot into the blender, and puree until very smooth. (Add additional broth if necessary) Pour chile puree into the simmering pot and stir in. Allow to cook for about 2 hours (or more) a low simmer. Season with additional salt as necessary.

Serve in large bowls, with oregano, limes, onions, cilantro, and tortillas at the table for each guest to customize their own bowl.

Serves 8.

Daring Cooks: Ceviche and Papas Rellenas

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau, and Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra.

I’ve enjoyed ceviche many times in Mexican restaurants, but never Peruvian ceviche, and never in my own kitchen. And as for papas rellenas? Nope – never tried them. I love ceviche – it’s cool, clean, and light. Which is a good thing when paired with papas rellenas, as they are definitely NOT light. Papas rellenas are stuffed potatoes that are then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Potatoes and deep-fried are two words that rarely, if ever, appear in the same sentence when it comes to our kitchen.  This was definitely uncharted territory for me, but I was up for it!

I started with the ceviche. I found some large sea scallops that I decided would be perfect for it. (In the interest of full disclosure, they were flash frozen. Not optimal, but I’m land-locked and super-fresh scallops are just not that readily available.) As I went through the process of making it, I wondered why I’d never made it before. It was simple – just a quick whisk of garlic, chile, cilantro, and lime, toss in the seafood, top with onion, and a brief stay in the refrigerator to “cook”, and I had a lovely appetizer worthy of company. The ceviche was lovely – it was light, with just a touch of bite from the chiles, and a fresh lime flavor. If I closed my eyes, I could just about imagine being on a beach somewhere. This was definitely a recipe to keep in my back pocket when I need to entertain.

The papas rellenas weren’t as simple, but that’s not to say that they were difficult. They did take time, however – definitely not a weeknight recipe. I made the mistake of using large russet potatoes, which took a long while to boil. And then there’s the whole frying thing, which once the oil is heated, only takes a few minutes, but frying is still “special occasion” for me, because it uses so much oil and requires a good deal of clean-up. All in all, the filling was wonderful. I opted to use an all-natural beef breakfast sausage I’d purchased from a local rancher instead of the ground beef called for in the recipe, just to boost the flavor. The addition of chiles, olives, raisins, and garlic truly brought the flavors together. I could eat that filling by itself.

The finished papas rellenas were not my favorite – they seemed heavy to me. Of course, I’m not a huge potato fan, and we’d enjoyed a big lunch already that day, so I was really not in the mood for something so filling. Brittany, who was with us for dinner, enjoyed them a great deal. I served them with a jarred chipotle salsa (Is that cheating, when it comes to Daring Cooks? If so, whoops, and pretend you never read that!), which complimented the flavors well.

A big kudos to Kathlyn for this challenge, and for giving us a bit of insight into Peruvian cuisine. This was a good challenge!

Scallop Ceviche

2 lbs sea scallops, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I cut mine into quarters)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

1 c freshly squeezed lime juice

1 T fresh cilantro, chopped

1 red onion, thinly sliced

Place the scallops in a large non-reactive bowl (glass is great for this). Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Whisk together the garlic, jalapeno, lime, and cilantro and pour over scallops. Toss well to evenly coat. Top with red onions. Refrigerate for 10 minutes up to 8 hours, or until desired “doneness” is reached. (I marinated for about 30 minutes) Remove from lime juice and place in dishes, topping with a few onions for garnish.

Serves 6 as an appetizer.

Gluten-Free Papas Rellenas

For the dough:

2¼ lb russet potatoes

1 large egg

For the filling:

2 T of a light flavored oil

½ lb ground (minced) beef (I used beef sausage)

6 black olives, pitted and chopped (use more if you love olives)

3 hard boiled large eggs, chopped

1 small onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)

½ cup raisins, soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes, then minced

1 finely diced aji pepper (ok to sub jalapeño or other pepper – if you are shy about heat, use less)

2 cloves garlic, minced or passed through a press (if you love garlic, add more)

1 t ground cumin (use more if you like cumin)

½ t sweet paprika

¼ c white wine, water or beef stock for deglazing

Salt and pepper to taste

For the final preparation:

1 large egg, beaten

1/3 cup soy flour, 1/3 cup tapioca starch, and 1/3 cup brown rice flour, whisked together

Dash cayenne pepper

Dash salt

1 cup dry gluten-free bread crumbs (I dried out some slices of gluten-free bread in the oven, then processed in the food processor)

Oil for frying (enough for 2” in a heavy pan like a medium sized dutch oven)

In order to save time, you can boil the potatoes, and while they are cooling, you can make the filling. While that is cooling, you can make the potato “dough.” In this way, little time is spent waiting for anything to cool.

Boil the potatoes until they pierce easily with a fork. Remove them from the water and cool. Once the potatoes have cooled, peel them and mash them with a potato masher or force them through a potato ricer (preferred). Add egg, salt and pepper and knead “dough” thoroughly to ensure that ingredients are well combined and uniformly distributed.

While the potatoes are cooling, gently brown onion and garlic in oil (about 5 minutes) in a large skillet. Add the chili pepper and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add ground beef and brown. Add raisins, cumin and paprika and cook briefly (a few seconds). Deglaze the pan with white wine. Add olives and cook for a few moments longer. Add hard boiled eggs and fold in off heat. Allow filling to cool before forming “papas.”

Use three small bowls to prepare the papas. In one, combine flour, cayenne and salt. In the second, a beaten egg with a tiny bit of water. Put bread crumbs in the third. Flour your hands and scoop up 1/6 of the total dough to make a round pancake with your hands. Make a slight indentation in the middle for the filling. Spoon a generous amount of filling into the center and then roll the potato closed, forming a smooth, potato-shaped casing around the filling. Repeat with all dough (you should have about 6 papas).

Heat 1 ½ – 2 inches (4 – 5 cm) of oil in a pan to about 350 – 375° F (175 – 190°C). Dip each papa in the three bowls to coat: first roll in flour, then dip in egg, then roll in bread crumbs. Fry the papas (in batches if necessary) about 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Flip once in the middle of frying to brown both sides. Drain on paper towel and store in a 200ºF (95ºC) (gas mark ¼) oven if frying in batches.

Kids In The Kitchen: Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free)

Matt wanted to make cinnamon rolls. This was what was decided on the weekend before last. I hadn’t perfected my “healthier” cinnamon roll recipe yet, and while I’ve bookmarked quite a few, I thought that perhaps Matt didn’t want to experiment with those. Instead, I made plans to make these from I Am Gluten Free (who is now Gluten-Free Diva), as I had made them before, early on in my gluten-free life, and they tasted very much like the original – light, fluffy, and deliciously cinnamon-y.

And then Matt changed his mind.

Normally we don’t do last-minute changes, particularly when things like live crabs were purchased. It’s just not that easy – someone still has to cook up perishible foods like that. But in this case, it was an easy switch. He wanted to make chocolate chip cookies instead. I thought, and realized I had all of the ingredients for some version of a chocolate chip cookie. But which recipe would I choose? I’m notorious for never making the same recipe more than once when it comes to baking – I love to experiment. I hadn’t yet perfected a relatively healthy, yet still chewy and delicious chocolate chip cookie. Elana’s recipe has been my favorite so far, but I was still on a quest. And while I love that cookie, it’s not exactly as familiar as a traditional gluten-y and sugary cookie. This time around, I wanted to allow Matt to make cookies like he was used to – the kind of cookies he loved.

So I scoured the internet a bit. It didn’t take long, because my favorite trustworthy TV “chef” had a solution – a gluten-free chewy cookie. That’s right, Alton Brown went gluten-free! (Okay, just for this recipe. Admit it though, I had you going for just a split second, right?) I made minor changes, making it also dairy-free, and we were on our way to making chocolate chip cookies.

To be straight, this is NOT a healthy cookie. Nope. Not at all. But was it chewy? Oh yes. Was it slightly soft in the center, with slightly crispy edges? Most definitely. Was it full of chocolatey goodness? Indeed.

I had to hide them from myself until the kids took them home, once I had my cookie. They were addictively good. Definitely a treat – not something I could keep around the house. But they also delighted the kids – so they were indeed a success!

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, adapted from Alton Brown

8 oz vegan butter, such as Earth Balance

11 oz brown rice flour (about 2 cups)

1 1/4 oz potato starch (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 oz tapioca flour (about 2 tablespoons)

1 t guar gum

1 t kosher salt

1 t baking soda

2 oz sugar (about 1/4 cup)

10 oz dark brown sugar (about 1 1/4 cups)

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

2 T non-dairy milk (I used So Delicious unsweetened coconut beverage)

1 1/2 t vanilla extract

12 oz non-dairy semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Melt the vegan butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

In a medium bowl, add the brown rice flour, the potato starch, the tapioca flour, guar gum, salt, and baking soda. Whisk together and set aside.

Add to the melted butter the sugar and brown sugar. Cream together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the egg, egg yolk, milk, and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture gradually until well combined. Add in chocolate chips and stir.

Refrigerate dough for 1 hour.

Shape the dough into 2-ounce balls and place on parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheets, no more than 6 to a sheet. Place oven racks on the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and place one baking sheet on each. Bake for 7 minutes, and then swap the baking sheets and bake for an additional 7 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a minute or two, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Makes about 2 dozen LARGE cookies.

Gluten-Free at Subway

We interrupt this not-so-regularly scheduled program to bring you this special report…Subway is testing gluten-free sandwiches in its restaurants here in the North Texas area.

That’s right, a gluten-free sandwich, only a few minutes away.

Normally, I am one to plan in advance for hectic days. Not sure where/when I’ll get to eat? I stash my purse with nuts, dried fruits, LARA bars, or a banana. I pack my lunch nearly every day for work, which often is a salad, soup, or leftovers from dinner. I rarely eat out, and when I do, it’s almost never a fast food chain. There’s just not many safe options, and they’re not all that appealing to me. I have my small circle of restaurants that I trust (Which is to say that I still explain my whole situation to them every time, share my Triumph dining card, and they are accommodating, and I haven’t gotten sick. These restaurants are also the ones that receive a generous tip from me for their efforts.), and I am cautious about when and how often I venture outside of that circle.

When I heard that Subway was trying out gluten-free sandwiches in our area, I was skeptical. There are bread crumbs everywhere, I thought. In my mind, it didn’t seem worth the risk. Then my brother called.

Guess what I’m doing right now, he says into the phone.

What?

Ordering a gluten-free sandwich at Subway.

I start to express my concerns for cross-contamination, and he responds with a description of all of the precautions they take.

I’ll call you back afterwards to let you know how it is, he says.

A few hours later, he calls back to tell me that it pretty good, and he was headed back for another for dinner. This was a reassuring sign, but I wanted to see for myself.

This past week, when I was swamped with training for work, I decided I would try it out for dinner. I look online beforehand at their allergy chart to determine what I could safely put on my sandwich. I decide on roast beef with lots of veggies and some brown mustard. I call the store near my home to make sure they’re offering the gluten-free sandwiches. (They were.) I arrive in the evening, and see that they even have a sign inside showing the “safe” ingredients for sandwiches. I place my order. Immediately, the guy behind the counter takes off his gloves. He goes and washes his hands thoroughly. He puts fresh gloves on. He takes a gluten-free bun, which is individually wrapped and sealed in cellophane, and opens it and places it on a brand new piece of uncontaminated paper. He takes out a plastic knife, which is also individually wrapped and sealed in cellophane, and opens it. He splits the bread, and moves the bread (still on the paper) to the toaster. He removes it, and tops with my meat (which has been underneath that paper that separates the slices, so there was little chance of contamination there too). Back into the toaster, still on the paper the whole time. Then he tops with my requested vegetables and mustard, and wraps the sandwich. Never does my sandwich touch their counter, and gluten-y fingers never touch it. (In fact, the guy making my sandwich held that piece of paper containing my sandwich so gingerly, so carefully, one would have thought he was carrying a small infant for the first time.) Sure, there is still a slight possibility for cross-contamination (there always is when there is gluten in the same kitchen), but Subway has obviously trained their employees well. My brother’s description of the process he encountered was identical to what I witnessed. Being able to watch the employee like a hawk also gave me some peace of mind – even in the best restaurants, I have to trust that that they understand what I mean when I describe how my food should be handled. This time, I can watch for myself.

They also offered a French Meadow Bakery gluten-free brownie. To my surprise, upon reading the label, it was also dairy-free. I opted to give it a try, just so I could share the results. See the sacrifices I make for you?

So…how was it? Good, actually. Not gourmet, of course (this is Subway, after all), but the bun was soft, which honestly, is more than I can say for their regular buns, which as I recall, were sometimes stale and hard on the bottom. It is a smaller sandwich than the typical 6-inch sub, but for me, that was just fine. They did have a sign guiding which chips were gluten-free (I didn’t buy chips), if one was interested. As for the brownie, it was surprisingly tasty – better than I anticipated. It was fudgy, and darn good for a packaged brownie, gluten-free or not.

While I’m not likely to eat this often, I do hope that this endeavor is successful for Subway, and that they soon expand it nationwide. I’m much more in favor of eating whole, unprocessed foods whenever I can (my body much prefers it, and I can ensure what I’m eating is indeed gluten-free), but for many, this would be a wonderful option. It wasn’t extremely cheap – my sandwich and brownie cost over $8 – but it was fast, and as safe as one can get eating at a fast food restaurant. If I was on the road traveling, this would be a nice option to have available for sure. So many companies and restaurants have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon lately, and many times, it seems more as a response to a fad than an actual help for those of us that have real gluten issues. In my opinion, it seems a lot of these companies give little thought to cross-contamination, and there is often a lack of education in the restaurants. I was happy to see the care that the Subway employees took. I hope to see this trend continue. While those of us with food intolerances/allergies often have to be our own advocates when it comes to our health and food safety, it comforts me to know that someone else is paying attention.

Kids In The Kitchen: Blue Crab Boil

 

Another seafood adventure for Kids In the Kitchen – this time, with blue crabs! Brandan wanted to try a crab boil, as he’d never encountered live crabs before. Sure, we did the lobster thing a few weeks ago, and we’ve had crawfish boils, but never crab. As an avid lover of all things crab, I figured we were overdue for this adventure. I contacted my local fishmonger and we were set. We brought home about 8-9 pounds of blue crab.

Brandan was ecstatic. Of course, as any young boy, he wanted to play with them. So we picked up one, and in response, it angrily latched onto others. You were hard-pressed to only pull one from the bunch – many times, you’d pick up one only to lift a chain of three or four, clasping each other with their claws.

Ready, set, now fight!

After the play ceased and our water was boiling (we simply seasoned with Old Bay, lemons, and a bit of vinegar, which makes for easier picking), we dropped crabs into the water. They were relatively small, so they were cooked through in about 8 minutes. Boiling crustaceans actually is a relatively quick and easy job, compared to a lot of other cooking that goes on in our kitchen! After a brief cool-down, they were ready to pick and eat!

Want to know how to eat a blue crab? Check out this step-by-step tutorial over at Coconut & Lime. (Hint: you might not want to wear your Sunday best for this, and you might want to cover the table in newspaper. Also, plenty of paper towels is a plus.) It does take some time to thoroughly pick the meat from a crab, but it makes for a great social gathering opportunity – just gather around a table filled with crabs and chat and eat! (Also, a not-so-kids-in-the-kitchen-friendly tip – crabs go great with a gluten-free beer.)

The verdict in our household? Brandan and I enjoyed the crab most of all, and put quite a dent in our bounty. (I particularly savored the claw meat - so sweet and delicious.) Brittany and Matthew weren’t fans, although I wasn’t too surprised after the lobster incident last time. John wasn’t as excited about it as he was the lobster. Regardless, it was certainly a delicious adventure.

Boiled Blue Crabs

8-9 lbs live blue crabs

large, deep stockpots, filled with filtered water

1/2 c Old Bay Seasoning

2 T vinegar

2 lemons, cut in half

Add seasoning, vinegar, and lemons to water. Bring water to a boil. Add 1/3 to 1/2 of the crabs to the water and return to a boil. Boil for 8-10 minutes or until crabs are a bright red and are completely cooked through. Remove from water and allow to cool for a minute, and then enjoy! (Repeat with remaining crab)

Adopt a Gluten-Free Blogger: Gluten Free For Good and Sauteed Lettuce and Brown Rice Bowl

This month, Adopt a Gluten-Free Blogger kind of snuck up on me. Lexie at Lexie’s Kitchen was hosting, and I read her announcement a week ago. I realized I hadn’t picked a blogger to adopt, and I knew that I was going to be swamped with a training class for work all week, leaving next to no time to cook. I really wanted to adopt Melissa at Gluten Free For Good, so I started scouring her site for recipes. I’ve made a version of her red chile enchilada pizza before with Udi’s crust (a deliciously evil treat!), but I didn’t have time for that. A long while back, I’d made a version of her sweet and spicy moroccan stew, and the warming spice blend in that recipe really tugged at me, but there was no time for that either. And then I came across her sauteed lettuce and brown rice bowl. I had lots of leftover romaine lettuce in the fridge that needed to be eaten, and while I was regularly incorporating it into green smoothies (a great alternative to the in-a-hotel conference/training breakfast, which usually consists of some variety of pastry or donut – while everyone else was likely crashing from an overload of sugar, my brain was primed with a nutrient-rich breakfast), there was more available than I could feasibly blend before it went bad. I decided that I’d whip up this recipe one evening for dinner – it wasn’t complicated, and it came together very quickly.

I already had cooked brown rice in the fridge (this is an often occurrence for me), so preparation simply consisted of chopping a bit of vegetables. I omitted the cheese in the recipe to make it dairy-free, but generously topped it with toasted sunflower seeds and some chopped parsley. It was a light dish, with a bit of crunch left in the ribs of the lettuce, but the wilted portions were silky and gave the dish a lovely textural contrast. The sesame seed (gomasio) topping really elevated the dish, reminding me of a lighter version of an Asian-style sauteed bok choy or other green. I enjoyed the leftovers the following morning, cold, topped with a bit of cold sliced egg omelette. Delightful, and it kept my belly happy all morning.

Melissa’s blog is one that I always enjoy reading. She shares recipes, sure, but perhaps even more valuable are her nutritional and health-based stories. I loved her “fuzz” post – worthwhile reading for anyone looking to keep their bodies free from stiffness and inflammation and generally happy and healthy. And her “does my butt look big” post was not only entertaining, but so much so that I couldn’t help but share with my husband. (who responded with a non-chalant “yeah, I already knew that” type of response – as if he always knew his “big-butt” wife was smart. I didn’t complain.) Melissa is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to health, nutrition, fitness, but most importantly, overall well-being, and she has a knack for making this information readily available to the average Joe. I still have more of Melissa’s recipes that I’d love to try – her pumpkin pecan boyfriend bait being my first choice. (I’m a sucker for anything pecan.) Soon, I hope, this will appear in my kitchen – because for me, pumpkin and pecan are year-round good!